I have overcome great odds to establish myself and build my life, and I am currently focused on building StartGlobal that empowers entrepreneurs to go global irrespective of where they live. In recognition of my contributions to this field, luminaries such as Twitter found Biz Stone and Hollister’s George Maliekel have invested my business, a sign of their faith in my potential. I see this as only the beginning, though.
Let me go back a little further. In 2010, I lost 80% of my hearing, responding to that challenge with strength, refusing to slow down, and refusing to give up on my vision. In the year that followed, I encountered one rejection after another, companies turning me down in spite of my skills and talents – telling me “no” because I could not listen to client calls. This could have proven discouraging, but my spirit was ready.
In 2012, I landed a job. Earning $120 per month, I was learning and overseeing programming projects. Although this was far from the final goal that I held in my mind, it was an important step into the future for me. I was earning enough money to support myself, and more importantly, I was learning all the time. Over the three years that followed, I remained a devoted student of programming. I was accruing the understanding that I would need to thrive in Silicon Valley, picking up fresh insights from every project that I undertook.
Eager to strike out on my own and to put more of my creative energy to work, I founded a startup in 2015, which was a first for me. This was a motivating and reassuring moment, but still, I knew that there was tremendous work in front of me yet. I continued to work my day job as a developer, refining, and using my skills for programming, management, and organisation. It was all leading to something, I was sure.
In 2018, I had worked as a developer for nearly a decade. As I approached that milestone, I started to reflect on what I had accomplished and what I hoped to accomplish in the future. Although I felt proud of the work that I had done as a developer, I also felt that my disability had limited me. I believed that because of this, I was not putting my absolute best into my work – that I was falling short of my true potential. This thought stuck with me, reverberating in my mind. I could hardly pull myself away from it.
It was that year that massive floods hit Kerala, my home state, which the inhabitants call “God’s own country.” The floods’ devastation soon became clear: it was the worst that Kerala had seen in almost a hundred years. Out of these floods, the damages were staggering, amounting to $5 billion in property losses, more than 483 people dead, and another 140 people missing. In total, 1 million people needed to abandon their homes, and in search of answers, some way to respond to the chaos, the government approached me.
Their request was straightforward, if only a little fanciful. They needed solutions – within a matter of hours, not weeks. Because of the huge numbers of people they needed to direct, they were eager to find some way to manage the shelters, the rescue operations, and the support services. I stepped up to the moment, responding forcefully, throwing myself into the work, and devising solutions for which the Secretary of State would honour me.
During my work during the 2018 Kerala floods, I realised that the only disability in life is a bad attitude. I stepped up when my neighbours and fellow citizens needed me most, and my hearing loss was not going to hold me back. This was a momentous realisation for me because I would then parlay that momentum into my entrepreneurial efforts.
Today, I am working with forty deaf students, formalising my mentoring system into a full accelerator that emphasises education accessibility, and venture capital for differently-abled people. I am training my students in software, design, and other marketable skills, helping them through the job market and guiding them toward creative positions.
I have opened a Google Play store account for students and first-time app developers, making resources available to them so that they can launch their apps without incurring any costs. This concept has yielded several successes, including one app that has grossed 250,000 downloads and a 4.4/5 rating. Indian media has covered the app extensively, leading the Chief Minister of Kerala to congratulate. The total investment that I made for this app in the first place? Only $25 – a sign of how a little money, when directed appropriately, can go a long way.
Despite an invite for a job from Facebook and another six-figure offer, I have focused all of my attention on my start-up. From meeting the President of India in 2017 to becoming a Forbes Fellow in 2018 to winning the Reach Award to attending Google IO as Google’s Guest to reaching more than 2 million users via StackOverflow to building a 1,000-person-plus developer community to graduating from Draper University to writing a resource guide for getting started on Android, I continue to break through barriers and compete at the highest levels in the technology sector.